The live export debate is a tricky topic with very serious ramifications on both sides. Ban the export of live sheep and remove a US$1.4 billion industry with significant consequences for farmers around the country. And if we continue at the status quo we risk sanctioning and engaging in terrible animal cruelty. Given this is clearly against Australian standards and values people understandably want it stopped.
But what if the answer wasn’t so straight forward? And if we did decide to continue the trade, are we legitimately ready (not just a political readiness) to take on the responsibility of welfare for hundreds of thousands of animals?
So we know why people want it stopped, but what about the farmers?
There’s the argument that this was a bad apple (increasingly difficult to sell given the repeated nature of the incidents), that farmers’ livelihoods (particularly in WA where around 95% of sheep are exported) are in jeopardy if the industry was banned or even stymied, that live export is regulated and will be regulated more heavily to prevent this happening again.These arguments are typically presented by live export supporters to validate the continuation of the trade.
But to a large number of people, these economic and social consequences are necessary sacrifices or an insufficient remedy (in the case of regulation) that are needed to counter the site of dead and dying sheep.
What these arguments fail to consider is the market demand for live sheep (the real ‘steakholders’) and is the key point of Amy’s post below (the inspiration for this article). I would never buy frozen meat at the shops so why should we expect people in other countries to? In fact a meat processing facility in the NT run by Australia Agricultural Co. (AACo.) is expected to shut its doors citing poor performance, even in times of significant rises in meat prices.
In 2015-16 1.9 million head of sheep were exported live to marketplaces around the world. While this is a 1.1 million head drop from 2009-2010, saying consumers should ‘suck it up’ or change their ways is unrealistic, as they’ll simply begin importing animals from other markets to fill the 1.9 million head gap.
This leads to the key argument supporting live export: if we cease all live exports immediately, the market demand will simply shift to a different country and we export our responsibility offshore.
The Burden of Responsibility
The debate then distills down to the argument surrounding our burden of responsibility. We are either responsible for the welfare of sheep (in good times and in bad) or we move this responsibility offshore and accept the standards of third party countries to continue a trade dominated by Australia.
If we do accept this responsibility everyone needs to be in the game. Political responses to simply appease generalised conservative and rural voters by the Nationals and Liberals, or urban and greens voters by Labor and the Greens won’t fix this problem. So if we do take on this responsibility, there needs to be political maturity in deciding on a bipartisan approach, with concessions of both sides of the debate. This political maturity is arguably not there, and needs to develop quickly.
It can’t continue to be “greenies” vs. “hard working farmers” or “animal rights activists” vs “cruel farmers”, both sides need engaging about accepting responsibility for the welfare of the sheep and improving the regulation of the entire supply chain. Continuing as adversaries propagates political immaturity for cheap votes, and fails the welfare of sheep, the livelihoods of farmers and ourselves as Australians.
So, irrespective of your political views and the level of political readiness take the first step and ask yourself this “am I comfortable shifting our welfare responsibility offshore, or am I comfortable taking on the responsibility of welfare here in Australia”?
There’s no right answer, and no intended underhand comment designed to influence your thought, but it is a tricky question and it must sit with our individual values before this issue will be resolved.